Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Hanukah!

Merry Hanukah! I'm going to try being on actual vacation for a week, so posting will be light to nonexistent. Thanks for reading, and hope you have a super-duper holiday yourself.

Image of Christmas cat from Cute Overload

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Christmas Eve Criticism & Cash Flows

For some time now I've been wanting to blog about art writing and criticism. My general philosophy of criticism can be summarized as follows:

Artmaking can be an amazing, healing process for virtually anyone to participate in. It's really important and I would recommend it to anyone. In fact, I think there should be more people doing it--engaging in creative work--for the rewards and insights it provides to the maker.

But does that mean I should recommend that other people should spend time viewing someone's creative product? Does that mean your creative product has useful meanings to others outside yourself? Not necessarily.

So.... do I think criticism is necessary to societal functioning? No, not really. The main reason I might have upset about shrinking column-inches or hours-paid for art writing is that it's a big part of how I make a living. Just as auto industry workers are shook up about the Big Three, I get shook up about the increasing tenuousness of text-based media outlets: print is losing to the web, and the web hasn't figured out how to make comparable money on text content yet.

How will art writing be funded into the future? I ask this out of self-interest and out of general curiosity. 

In this vein, I thought the following links might be interesting:
To me, it's clear from all this that online venues need to figure out revenue big time. Could it be that the future would be dominated by outlets like, which is essentially an advertising site that added a blog later in its development? Or will it depend on people working largely for free or on honorarium, a tack that has served a lot of community outlets (like well but does not provide the resources for in-depth reportage?

Another thing the industry needs to figure out is what's okay and not on the web. Aggregation of content from diverse streams IS a strength that the web offers, and it's a service many readers are looking for. But there needs to be a sense of fair use, just as there is for fair use in print reproduction. Clearly, based on GateHouse's lawsuit and the HuffPo backlash, this fair use judgment is not yet in large professional play.

On another layoffs tack, I have to say a freelance-dominated media workforce, while good news for freelancers like me, is not necessarily good for news coverage in general. In order to really deliver important, under-wraps information to readers on any topic, there has to be retained reporters who have time to milk sources, learn their field, sift through press releases, and receive regular column-inches from their editors. 

So as the dark of Christmas Eve draws near, I say: Santa, please bring us in the media industry more insights into how we can keep telling important stories to the broader public. I know it's a tall order, but... we've run a hella lotta stories on you this month, so you owe us one.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Top Ten @ Sally & LM

My top ten of 2008 is now up at Sally & LM. I think they are taking them until tomorrow (the 24th) so send one in if you want to see your own name in pixel-lights....

UPDATE LM says they'll take them as long as they keep coming in... within reason, like early Januaryish I'm guessing.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Recommended Roundup: Andrew Morrow, Chris Flanagan, More Top Tens

A veritable roundup of recommendations:

Andrew Morrow @ Ed Day Gallery, Toronto - Morrow is a heckuva painter, who built his career by plucking the themes and techniques of romantic history painting into the present day. In the past few years, Morrow's become known for massive works on the big themes: sex and death, mostly death. Now the pendulum has swung back in the other direction: massive works on sex and death, mostly sex. The great thing about Morrow's work is there usually isn't viewer-torture heaviness involved--well, there's a little more of that in the newer work, with self-conscious "notes on painting" applied to the picture plane, stuff like "more blue here" or "x finds this hot" and such. That's a little distracting, and I think mostly due to Morrow's current grad studies--frequent crits'll do that do you. But overall, how can you beat a painting with a title like "Some asshole blocking my view of the apocalypse"--"and it really is a bared asshole blocking a distant view of an apocalypse? I know I can't. (Okay, I guess there is one big question outstanding: Is or isn't this macho war porn? Either way, it's worth a look to make a decision on.)

Chris Flanagan @ York Quay - The exhibition pamphlet says Flanagan is "an Australian installation artist based in Toronto" but I'm not sure I believe this. Because is this the standard description for an artist who would put an ugly baby vulture in an uglified vitrine (with extra wall cracks and water stains drawn into the space with pencil, natch) and soundtrack the whole thing with a reggae song about how great he is. Bizarre and sad enough to be worth seeing. 

Andrew Harwood's Top Ten and Four Worst @ Sally & LM - Read it, and believe in the acumen of insider commentary.

Gabby Moser's Top Ten at Gabrielle Moser Projects & Things - A tidy and well thought out list of works. Why did I not see Stephen Appleby-Barr? [Insert sound of kicking self.]

Jerry Saltz's Year in Art, in Superlatives & Top 9 Shows @ NY Magazine: I wish they gave him more space to expound and explain, but I understand print and budgets are a-shrinkin. That Urs Fisher show does look amazariffic.

Image of Andrew Morrow's "Oh Happy Meat" (96" x 192" in real life) from Edward Day Gallery

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Wandrin' in a Winter Web-erland

Toronto is one big snow day today--or "snowmageddon" as those meterological wags like to call it. So it's a perfect day to stay in with good web reads, with some print thrown in for old-school nostalgia.

  • Over at digitalmediatree, Sally McKay and Lorna Mills have started their annual, and annually enjoyable, top-ten fiesta. Best so far is RM Vaughan, who uses Britney's lack of panties to demonstrate how we are all celebrities. Or something like that. All folks, self-designatedly famous or otherwise,are welcome to submit, so toss that snow shovel aside, do a shot of eggnog and type away.
  • Year-end best-of lists also show up at Akimblog, which has their critics from Vancouver, Halifax, Montreal, Calgary and Toronto weigh in for a nice cross-Canada feel.
  • EYE Weekly and Toronto Life art critic David Balzer offers his view on '08. I don't share the same vitriol he has for museum panels and larger exhibition venues, but overall his stance, as always, worth reading. 
  • My part-time boss, Canadian Art editor Richard Rhodes, offers his top ten of 2008 at
  • And in case anybody in Canada is interested in what's happening in New York--how unlikely is that?--Peter Schjeldahl's top ten shows of the year provides a guide.
  • No best-ofs but definitely some good info over at the recently launched, which brings more frequent reviews from Alberta to the nation
  • The Coast reports on how Halifax arts orgs are being impacted by Harper's late-summer arts cuts
  • On a related note, Canadian Magazines reports that the Canadian Conference of the Arts is urging Canada's finance minister to stimulate the economy through arts funding
  • Museum 2.0, as ever, delivers interesting peeks behind the scenes of museums' attempts to get accessible
And, in old-school print:
  • The 100th edition of C Magazine launched in Toronto last night. (In a strange feat of synchronicity, it's focusing on pedagogy/education, just like the winter issue of Canadian Art. Stranger still that Border Crossings and Canadian Art both had Marcel Dzama on their fall covers.) I got my hands on a copy prior to the launch, and have so far enjoyed reading Gabby Moser's feature on curatorial programs, as well as Earl Miller's summary on the state of art criticism--though he almost completely excludes the web from his considerations, what up? Lydia Perovic's report on private art philanthropy was also informative.
  • Border Crossings's winter issue, themed on photography, is also out. So far the interview with Philip Lorca diCorcia, though somewhat overlong, was worthwhile for me. 
  • The winter issue of FUSE is also out; I've only skimmed it so far but look forward to the article on the Textile Museum's excellent Afghan War Rugs exhibition
  • As previously mentioned, the winter issue of Canadian Art is out. So far I recommend John Kissick's essay on failings in art education.
  • Artforum's year-end issue is something I'm still wading through. I did like the geographic reports a lot: Caroline Busta and Linda Yablonsky on New York, Walead Beshty on Los Angeles, Emily Pethick on London, Dominikus Müller on Berlin, etc.
And, in a strange admixture of web and print:
  • I self-consciously recommend some old articles from the Canadian Art archives that I scanned and put on their website. Call me an eighties queen, but I loved seeing old photos of now-well-established artworld figures, as well as old photos of those whose legacies have, well, pretty much evaporated. Here you can find links to articles on Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto; and here's one on Halifax/NSCAD, all full of 80s goodness (just click through the slideshow till you get to the article.)
Happy reading!

UPDATE Hill Strategies just released a report on museum and gallery revenues. It's dry as hell but has some interesting stats -- like that attendance at 113 public museums and galleries was 10 million last year. Nice.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Q&A: Giovanna Borasi on Actions at the CCA

With all the predictions that this recession-flavoured holiday is to be more about "moments" and "experiences" than about "stuff", it's extra timely that Montreal's Canadian Centre for Architecture is doing a show all about actions--rather than about traditional architecture. I got to talk with co-curator Giovanna Borasi about "Actions: What You Can Do With The City" by phone earlier this week; today the National Post published our condensed interview. Click here or read on after the jump for artsy spins on playing soccer, herding sheep, eating roadkill (!) and more.

Image muf architecture/art Fake Horses Plan Real Park 2004 / photo Oliver Claridges Copyright muf architecture/art from

Take this space & love It
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Thursday, December 18, 2008

With recession routing our holidays, more Canadians are giving time and energy, rather than purchases, as gifts. Now, a new exhibit at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal is highlighting how actions, rather than architecture, can be a real gift to our cities. Here, exhibit co-curator Giovanna Borasi tells Leah Sandals more about Actions:What You Can Do With the City.

Q The name of your museum usually connotes buildings, like office towers and housing. Why focus on actions, which have no material form?

A In the last few years our museum has opened up this idea that architecture is not only about buildings but also about urban organization. It's touching generally on the way we live in the city.

Three years ago we did an exhibition that described the city through sound and smell, for example. This Actions exhibition has a bit of the same idea-- to look into the city considering non-building factors.

Also, this year, 50% of the world's population came to live in urban environments. In 2050, this will be 75%. So we thought it was a very important time to talk about what it means to live in a city.

Q What kinds of actions are featured in the show?

A We chose four key themes: gardening, recycling, walking and playing. And we took these as a chance to introduce 99 ideas about urban design. So recycling isn't just, "What do I do about these plastic bottles?" but, "What do we do with this building that's not being used anymore?" There's a Paris group called Coloco, and they mapped these type of buildings on a website. And there's a group in Belgium that's looking to create short-term rental contracts for buildings that are under renovation.

Q A lot of the actions in the show seem quite fun, like playing soccer in a museum plaza, or dress-up in the park. But can silly actions like that really make cities better?

A I think they can. That's one part of the show people say they find really inspiring, the fact that it opens up possibilities. Like maybe instead of paying someone to cut grass in public parks, we could bring in sheep, as they did in Turin. Or maybe this public square can be a playground. The aim is to offer different ideas for people to choose from and take into their own lives.

Still, these actions also become a critique. We have one action called freeganism, where people decide to eat only food in the garbage or on its expiration date. This action can exist only because we have a society that throws edible things away So this exhibition brings fun new ideas to people, but it also exposes the limits of the way we live.

Q Which action is your favourite?

A Well, I'm not sure I'd ever be able to do it, but I was intrigued by Fergus Brennan, who's survived near London, U. K., for one year solely by foraging. He eats only what he finds in nature, even roadkill. Again, while I couldn't do it, I think it's interesting to imagine the city as a place where you could find food rather than buy food.

Q What about the legality of some of these actions?

A This exhibition actually has a section about guerilla or "do-it-yourself" civic improvements. The interesting thing is many of these actions are right on the legal borderline. Toronto's Urban Repair Squad heard people asking for a bicycle path [and] city hall was taking a long time. So in a way they were carrying out an official function.

Similarly, a Los Angeles group called Fallen Fruit works on the law that if a tree branch goes outside a fence, it's public and the fruit that grows on it is public. They tour and harvest food from these sites. I really think such projects aren't trying to make trouble; they're trying to make the city better.

Q What do you hope people do when they leave the show?

A We have a website,,where people can add their own ideas for action. Even if they don't do that, I hope that the visitor will reconsider basic elements of everyday urban life. One of the things we're doing is publishing instructions in a local homeless paper on how to make heating-vent shelters. So we're taking it out of the museum, too.

Actions:What You Can Do With the City continues to April 19 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. For more information, visit cca.

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Review: You Don't Really Care for Music, Do You?

Recently, energy drink manufacturer Red Bull bizarrely decided to turn part of its Toronto office lobby into a gallery space. The most bizarre part is some of the shows have been pretty good. So it is with "You Don't Really Care for Music, Do You?", a group show on to December 20. NOW published my review today.

Image of Alana Riley's Songs of Love from NOW

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A little change for the holidays

Everyone could use a little change for the holidays. If you're in Montreal, I suggest you find some at CHANGE, the temporary storefront for the activisty franco-artists Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable, which is closing up shop at the end of this month.

Retrospective book "Quand Art Passe a L'action" is jut $20 on sale at the storefront; a DVD with that just $5 more. A $5 set of postcards on St Laurent Boulevard looks especially suitable for urban geeks.

It ain't no 100-year-old art scotch, but it's a little more affordable, and potentially inspiring in this stagnant, prorogued age. Also provides money left over for organic candy canes. Yes!

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Recommended: A Drink To Us When We're Both Dead

This looks good:

"MKG127 is pleased to host the launch for A Drink To Us (When We're Both Dead), an edition by Dave Dyment on Sunday December 21st from 3-6 PM.

Working with the staff at the Glenfiddich Distilleries, Dyment created a reinforced barrel, filled it with uncut spirit and buried it in Warehouse 8, among large stones from the river Fiddich. It will be excavated in 2108. This whisky is being pre-sold now, though it will not be available to drink for 100 years. Buyers will receive an extruded wood casket housed in a linen box, a map of the warehouse, a small diary documenting the process, and a contract to pass on to their ancestors to collect the whisky in a hundred years time. "A Drink To Us (When We're Both Dead" is available in an edition of 25 copies.

A website documenting the project can be seen here:

A representative from Glenfiddich will be on hand at the launch, serving Scotch."

Free scotch, people!

Also, I visited Glenfiddich's art residency program on a junket last year--the only junket I have ever participated in, actually--and I think Dyment's project makes particularly good use of the context. I look forward to seeing if any still-monied stockbrokers can step up to buy a bottle for their future sons and daughters. How will scotch taste once it's been flavoured by environmental apocalyse 100 years hence. Mmmmmm. I can only wonder.

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Admission fee ups & downs at ROM, Gardiner

Last week when I went to the Gardiner Museum, I noticed that their once-free Friday evenings had been changed to half-price. This is a bit of a shame, as the Gardiner was setting a progressive access model for its neighbouring ROM when it continued to maintain some free access after their own pricy renovations even though the ROM did not.

But the ROM's nowhere near consistent on admission fees either. In addition to bumping up adult ticket prices from $20 to $22 earlier this year, the ROM now says on their homepage that entry will be free for some kids on December 20 and 21, as well as on January 1. The rule is "One FREE CHILD ADMISSION (aged 4-14) with each regular paying adult, senior or student."

Too bad for parents with more than two kids? Or single parents with more than one?

In other news, the ROM was referenced recently by the Toronto Zoo as it bumped up its own admission fee to by $1 to $21 for adults. The Zoo's rationale? That "the fee would still be below that for other attractions such as the ROM."

Funny, I seem to remember that when the ROM bumped up its own fee from $15 to $20 back in June 2007, they referenced the zoo as a comparable. This upsets me because now public institutions seem to think that all they need to rationalize admission fees hikes are to point fingers at the fees of other public institutions. And up and up we go. In a fairer system, ticket fees should be set in accordance with what the public can actually afford. And free hours should most definitely remain.

This leaves only a few art museums maintaining free evenings in Toronto: The AGO, the Textile Museum and the Power Plant on Wednesdays, and the MOCCA maintaining a refreshing PWYC policy every day of the week.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Recommended: "If We Can't Get it Together"

A few quick thoughts on a show I recently saw and recommend: "If We Can't Get it Together" at the Power Plant to Feb 22

This just-opened show, curated by Stockholm's Nina Montmann, is generally quite strong, full of the kind of works that don't seem all that engaging at first, but sneak up on you with their power. It also includes intriguing work from a number of artists I've never heard of before: India's Shaina Anand, Sweden's Kajsa Dahlberg, Korea's Haegue Yang, New York's Emly Roysdon and more. That sense of discovery is always nice.

I spent a lot of time with Yang's work, an installation of venetian blinds, heaters, fans, odor elements and video that riffed on the permeability of being human. This theme was forced, of course, physically, with the sense of touch and smell played with by the artist. But it was also elaborated in the video, which focused on "in-between" public spaces in a Brazilian city, and on fluid water meeting hard concrete, the impermanent meeting the permanent. The sound element on migration and inbetweenness would have been overly philosophical and hard to bear without the physical elements, but overall I think it worked.

Montmann was focusing a lot on that sense of inbetweenness, between the group and the individual, between solidity and the unknown. The show title seemed to spring from the work of Shaina Anand, which connected disaparate though nearby spaces in an Indian city--workplaces, women's living rooms, coffeeshops and bars--through video and audio, allowing four places to speak to each other at once. There were about 8 experiments of this type, presented here in edited video "episodes". The results are really cool and insightful, showing how connection can actually happen, as well as conflict--the "If We Can't Get It Together What will happen?" voiced by a man speaking to class and ethnic tensions during one of the experiments. In the latter "episodes" Anand and her collaborators intervene in the process by introducing characters, something I wasn't so hot on. I think people interacting themselves can be fascinating.

Kajsa Dahlberg's quiet video of a group of women taking down the tents for an all-woman festival was also really great. It just showed these women at work, but the effect was to posit things like organizing, cleaning and deconstructing as valuable. Also really nice to see queer women portrayed in a non L-word, non glamorous, just human kind of way. Of course the inbetweenness here also applies to the gender spectrum these women exist in, but I really like how this idea of inbetweeness goes beyond the whole drag thing (which I still love but has been a main focus for a while in art) to a sense of performing gender, and gender heroism, in a more utilitarian way.

Emily Roysdon's photographs posited this question of how to "be" in community most straightforwardly, almost in cute Sesame Street Style, by showing people in a human pyramid, but who at the same time are taking a self-portrait. Some might call this too simple, but I think it works as a friendly entry point.

There were more artists there worth discussing, but I think what most struck me overall was that the show's best pieces took me to a place of accepting an undoomful uncertainty. I choose these words because works that try to put the viewer in a place of uncertainty and disorientation--some of Steve Reinke's videos come to mind--often come off to me as jaded, nihilistic and unpleasant. While these put the viewer in a position of not knowing, of not being able to understand everything, of being conflicted, it was done in an open-minded to hopeful-and-empathetic way.

I look forward to visiting the show again, and hearing what others think. The related January symposium "We, Ourselves and Us" also looks interesting.

Installation detail of Emily Roysdon's Strategic Form from

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Friday, December 12, 2008

As Promised: Personally Revelatory, Potentially Embarrassing Post

As promised in my previous post, some personal, potentially embarrassing revelations:
  • Today I really enjoyed watching videos of contemporary Canadian ceramicists in a little booth just off at the Gardiner Museum's modern ceramics section. That Harlan House on a potter's wheel, oh my god, mesmerizing! Crazy. And Walter Ostrom obsessed with his tortoise, Retlaw, in idyllic Nova Scotia studioland. (Ostrom calls tortoises something like "pots on legs," and therefore compelling to all ceramics types. He also says "Art is a reflection on life. Craft is life." A useful distinction, I think.) On the third level of the museum, I also became ashamed I hadn't seen the Gardiner's Days of the Dead show sooner. Besides some spectacular Tree of Life clay sculptures there was a very smart angle offered, looking at Mexican migrant workers in Ontario and the clay sculptures they make if offered the chance. Ends Jan 14. 
  • Also today I also took the cute mini-subway RT out to the University of Toronto at Scarborough's Doris McCarthy Gallery, where I saw Bill Burns's Bird Radio. This is a great little show. Not as funny as Burns's show at MKG127 earlier this year, but more poignant. For it, elementary schoolkids present on video on different birds and use nutty specialized instruments to imitate their sounds. Part of what's interesting is how engaged kids become in making the sounds, almost like they are the bird for a moment. The same thing then happens to the spectator when they go in the next room and try out the bird-call instruments for themselves. Also: gently absurd. And it has a great quote too, from the exhibition binder: When Burns is asked "What advice do you have for young artists?" he says something like " Quit your job immediately." To Dec 14.
  • I read an article about how Toronto taxi drivers are quite pressed for fares right now, and then in the course of my transit travels I had to deal with an unfulfilled 30-minute streetcar wait followed by a subway trek to a bus that suddenly died enroute while we passengers were on it. (It was the 72 Pape if you must know.) Then I became suspicious about whether the taxi drivers were trying to sabotage the transit system. I also worried about how service will be once the snow actually begins to fly again, and there's ice and stuff. I also thought of the local notoriety a Scarborough duo recently gained recording a song about the TTC, and thought we need more songs like that.
  • I posted an entry on my blog at 11:38pm on a Friday night, a Power Plant opening night no less. But I will go to the Power Plant show tomorrow, when the opening is over, the beer bottles cleared, and I can actually see the work. How geeky is that?
  • Finally, I just heard that cityblog Torontoist is shutting its html doors at the end of this month. This makes me sad, as I think it's a good, snarky site (not that all sites should be snarky, but it's important to have at least a few). I joined some Facebook groups formed to try and revive it, snatch it from the clutches of its nasty US owners Gothamist. Who do you think Torontoist is, Gothamist, a web equivalent of Time Canada? (Actually, don't answer that.)
Image of a tortoise remarkably similar to the ones that inspire East Coast ceramicists from Riparian Farms

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Correction: Clint Roenisch/Carte Blanche Curation

The best/worst thing about doing a personal blog is that factchecking is nonexistent, pretty much. You can get stuff out fast, but the mistakes come fast and furious as well.

So I apologize to dealer Clint Roenisch for reproducing a mistake that Sarah Milroy originally asserted in the Globe and Mail last month. I referenced her article in a post here.

Milroy had implied that five of the thirty-some artists in the Carte Blanche show were from Roenisch's gallery--a bit of a conflict of interest since the show was co-curated by Roenisch meant to represent Canadian painting in general.

However, as Roenisch recently clarified to me in an email, the "five Roenisch painters" referred to were in the much-larger anthology Carte Blanche, not the smaller show Carte Blanche. In the show, just two of his artists are represented.

This ends the factchecking-embarrassment portion of today's posts. Personally relevatory embarrassments potentially still in store!

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Q&A: Althea Thauberger

That Q&A I promised with Vancouver artist Althea Thauberger is in today's National Post. Click here to read on about her compelling collaborative work with group portraiture, or read on after the jump.

Image of Althea Thauberger's CANADA from National Post, Courtesy of Susan Hobbs Gallery

Out of Many They Are One
National Post
Dec 12, 2008

Whether you’re managing surly relatives at a holiday party or—perhaps more likely of late—shuffling testy MPs in a political party, group dynamics can run from awkward to cutthroat. Yet Vancouver artist Althea Thauberger thrives on these difficulties, creating collaborative works that lever social challenges into art. Here, with a show just opened at Toronto’s Susan Hobbs Gallery, Thauberger pushes participation to Leah Sandals.

Q In your art career, you've collaborated with many different groups of people—from military wives in San Diego to conscientious objectors in Germany. What do you enjoy about working with groups, particularly ones with conflicting perspectives?

A I always learn a lot when I work with a group that’s a bit outside of my comfort zone. It's almost always pretty humbling, and forces me to re-evaluate myself and my relationship with the world.

My more involved projects usually establish a framework resembling social, political or economic structures. Finding a freedom within structure—or better yet, challenging structure—happens when you work with groups, and often leaves me, the artist, not entirely in control.

Even if these challenging moments occur by accident, they’re usually transformational and beautiful. That’s what I enjoy most about this type of work.

Q What groups do we see in your three photographs on display in Toronto?

A CANADA is a photograph of treeplanters on a day off in northern Alberta. ARBEIT was made with a group of teenaged protesters on May Day in Berlin. 2x3x8 features eight young German men doing mandatory social service in lieu of military duty.

Q Where did you meet these groups, and how did you get them to make art with you?

A CANADA was made in summer 2005 when I spent several months living and working with a group of treeplanters. One of the camps was in this rather bucolic setting next to a creek. It was my idea to ask the planters to spell the name of our nation with their bodies, and they thought it was amusing to play with the kind of soft nationalism that is our status quo.

When I was living in Berlin in 2006, I spent May 1 wandering the streets with my camera. May Day is still a major political event there, with the tone now more like a district-wide throw-down than mass civil disobedience. I was thinking about the contradictions between the history of May 1 and the realities playing out on the street. Then I was offered a beer by some teenagers. They wanted me to take their picture, and I suggested we stage a tableau. Together we decided on the word “Arbeit,” which means roughly “job” or “work”, though has fraught meanings in Germany.

2x3x8 is part of an extended project. That same year, in Berlin, I negotiated with the national Zivildienst authorities that coordinate service for conscientious objectors. Eight Berlin-based Zivis, as they are called, were allowed to work on an art project with me as part of their state service. After discussions and improv sessions, we collectively wrote and produced a performance, film, and publication. The photograph 2 x 3 x 8 was made as a kind of summary image.

Q The last few weeks in Canadian politics have seemed to indicate group strife rather than group cohesion. What's your take on current events given your experience with groups?

A Personally, I think it's cool and that something remotely radical is actually going down in Canadian politics. I don't think of this fissure as a crisis in negative terms, as we’ve had something like that until this breaking point with an extremist Prime Minister, an inept opposition, and a largely comatose public. In terms of group dynamics, I think strife is almost always accompanies productive change. So I think of this political flux as potentially productive in relation to the dysfunction that preceded it.

Q What are you working on now?
I’m supposed to go to Afghanistan as a war artist in the near future, but my dates keep getting bumped back. So the main thing I’m working on now is a book on a public event I organized with Artspeak in Vancouver. For three hours on the night of September 30, we closed the 200 block of Carrall Street to car traffic. The block was lit with cinema lights and we invited diverse local performers to present. The project has caused lots of debate, and we hope the book represents those conflicting points of view.

Althea Thauberger’s photographs show to January 24 at Toronto’s Susan Hobbs Gallery (

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Art-School Art Shows: A Video of a TO Example

Barrow, Tapper & Balcaen: Picture of a School-Art exhibition from Canadian Art on Vimeo.

So Canadian Art's Winter print edition on art schools is hitting newsstands across the country. And as a writer for it, I can assertively say that there's plenty of stuff on art school that's not in it. That's why, as an editor for their website, I tried to put some additional material online. One of the things, for example, that intrigued me but that I didn't get to explore in print is the increasing number of art shows about art schools. This video, made in collaboration with Toronto curator Jennifer Cherniack, explores her thoughts on a related InterAccess exhibition from earlier this fall. It's about 7 minutes long, and focuses on alumni from the University of Manitoba.

UPDATE: Vimeo seems to be running really slowly today at times... hopefully it will be fixed soon!

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Recommended: Luanne Martineau @ Jessica Bradley, Althea Thauberger @ Susan Hobbs

A couple of recommended shows in TO:

Luanne Martineau at Jessica Bradley is a whole bowl of feminist crafty fun. Martineau's works crystallize a really conceptual art historical approach and a really mucky materialist one all at the same time. Very very interesting, in a way speaking I think to the politics of the felt (material and emotion), of the body, of marrying concept with actuality. I can't do it justice in a few sentences so I just recommend it be seen.

Althea Thauberger @ Susan Hobbs opens tonight with work from Patrick Howlett. I really like Thauberger's group portraits of people in somewhat awkward or unusual positions--the National Post should run my interview with her in the next few days about this work, but since the show is opening tonight I wanted to give it a shout out.

Image of Luanne Martineau's work from Jessica Bradley Art & Projects

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

New Leaders for Canada: Marc Mayer, Michael Ignatieff, Jon Stewart

It's a Tuesday, a seemingly typical day to many, but one which magically generated three new leaders for Canada in one 24-hour period. Here's my take.

1) Marc Mayer, newly announced as the head of the National Gallery of Canada: I have a good feeling about this one. Some fondly (and unfondly) call Mayer a crank, but I appreciate his candour and energy in a scene of quietly treading curatorial footsteps. He has spent the past few years making the Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal one of the top spots for art in the country--and, in a truly remarkable feat for Canada, has made those beyond our nation note same. Mayer is also not afraid to speak out controversially on the issues, another good reason to hire him on. Plus on the institution end the man is innovative, getting solo shows for new artists he wants the museum to acquire (like Karel Funk), being savvy with dealers, and instituting new fundraisers like a collectors' evening that sees the collectors themselves decide which work will be purchased with their ticket-fee haul. In other words, I've got high hopes... and anticipation for more exciting things to come now from the NGC. (But hello, NGC board of directors, there's no need to delay a staffing announcement for six months just because the government is holding an election... is there? Or is there just some NGC-head proroguing bylaw I don't know about?)

2) Michael Ignatieff, newly announced as head of the Liberal Party of Canada: I posted on this yesterday, but generally I'm disappointed. Iggy's a centre-right kinda guy, a choice made by the Libs to lure voters away from further-right Conservative party. But that doesn't mean he has Canada's best interests at heart. Though politicians by nature of their job description must have some ego surplus going on, this man comes off as having his own best interests at heart rather than that of the nation. Hopefully, I'll be proven wrong along the way but more than ever this appointment has me leaning towards "trusting the moustache" (ie. the NDP's Jack Layton) as one coalition support sign suggested this weekend in Toronto.

3) Jon Stewart, newly accepted as official comedian of the current Canadian political crisis: Stewart's no Canuck, but he's willing to skewer politicians like no gentle north-of-the-49er I know of. Sure, Rick Mercer definitely has his strong points, I love what he does. But "Provinces in Peril: Indecision Oh-eh?" -- too good. Thanks Stewart (and comrade and actual Canadian Samantha Bee) for helping us laugh at ourselves at a time of (continuing... thanks Harp & the libs) crisis.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

I Guess Adult Contemporary--Even Good, Canadian Adult Contemporary--Can Only Do So Much

I know this is supposed to be an art blog but Canadian politics are impossible to push aside right now. After appearing at rallies this weekend, which included supporters like celeb Feist, Liberal leader Dion has rushed to step down from the party leadership.

Now, Dion was supposed to step down in the spring when a leadership convention was slated. On the one hand, I can see how the party wants to up its rep with snowmobilin' Canadians by getting an alpha-er male like Michael Ignatieff into leadership position. (For the record, Iggy irks me with his Ivy League condescension and desire to rush into the Iraq war. Having a chin doesn't necessarily make one a strong leader, you phrenology-lovin political advisors!)

Yet I don't see how this move can engender anything but cynicism from voters who both supported and ignored the Liberal party.

First, when Dion led the lowest-ever results for a Liberal party in a federal election, his MPs said, well, we have a process for reviewing his leadership, and we'll do that. He's not gone yet.

Then they did pressure him to resign early, process or no process, so that they could vote on a new party leader.

Now they have pressured him to resign earlier than forseen, and looks like they could forsake a party vote altogether for a panicked off the cuff choice.

Which, I'm sorry guys, all really looks as undemocratic to me as Harper locking the parliament doors for eight weeks--at a time of national economic crisis, no less.

Liberal party strategists: Whether you want Dion gone or not, you must keep in mind that the more you do the whole "do as I say, not as I do thing" the worse it will come back to bite your ass in the future. At least with now-disenchanted lefty voters like me.

Hopefully by the time the girl in this picture has reached the age to vote, things will have changed.

In the meantime, I'm up for some good old "Let it Die."

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Spacing Out for Five Whole Years

I haven't been with Spacing magazine since its beginning, so I can't truthfully say I've been spacing out for five whole years. (Well, some might beg to differ on other evidence, but...) Still, I'm glad to have been involved with this upstart Toronto mag, both previously as an editor and now as a writer. After all, this little shoestring publication has focused a lot of attention on public space and public politics in our city over the years. So I know I'll be at this week's big 0-5 birthday bash. I hope you will be too. Here's the details:

WHEN: Wed. December 10th, 7pm-1am
WHERE: The Great Hall, 1087 Queen Street West at Dovercourt
HOW MUCH: $5 for subscribers or $10 (includes mag)
RSVP: please note that, in accordance with the Spacing liquor license, you need to RSVP to this event. You may do so via the Facebook event listing, or (if you don’t have a Facebook profile) by email to

The party promises large panels displaying the finalists from the thinkTORONTO urban design ideas competition (in the issue, I profile a couple of innovative students who propose turning transit shelters into book exchanges); Rannie Turingan manning a photo portrait station; Rose Bianchini filming " five things you like about Toronto"; saxophonist and former Shuffle Demon Richard Underhill performing solo; and the DJ trio Track Meet.

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This one's for the editors...

One might wish to live by one's words, but language or style that is less engaging, less stimulating than the competition, is, frankly, dead on arrival. Imagine legions of writers setting off on the marathon run to success. Among them are thousands who have mastered the basic skills of composition. Should you need to catch up, scores of worth grammar/style books are standing by to help. But if your goal is to break away from the pack, some uber-force has to inhabit your writing....

Not that I claim a hound's quickness in seizing the prize; but I do have one special gift, perhaps the odd fruit of a life as editor, author, and reader: I see dead writing.

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Leslie Feist v. Stephen Harper - musicopolitical smackdown time?

I'm just thawing out my typing fingers from the freezing they got at today's Rally for the Coalition at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. I know it's not traditionally sympatico for journalists to join such things, but Harper's latest moves have really upset me. I've lived in cities from West to East across this country, and I love it all the way across. And I have never seen a leader as divisive as Harper, someone who seeks to divide people and regions rather than unite them.

So I went and shook my sign and said "boo!" and "yay!" at all the appropriate parts; 'tis political theatre after all, but hopefully a useful kind. In any case, I was a little surprised to see Leslie Feist there onstage with coalition leaders Dion and Layton--does this mean no more cool-kid Sesame Street skits will be played by the youngsters of the Harper household? No more date-night soundtracks for Stephen and Laureen courtesy of a certified Calgary-bred crooner? It ain't a Will-i-am/Obama-level stunt, but it interests me how celebrities might try to use their influence in these instances, and what politicians' families feel they must do as a result. (Recall how Laureen Harper, reportedly a theatre fan, had to bypass a National Arts Centre gala after her hubby dissed the arts, and galas for same.)

On a different creative-person-turned-politico note, MC Mary Walsh was terrific. Her career as a humorist definitely serves her well in this capacity. "You guys must be freezing out there. It's hard having a PM with all the warmth of an iceberg... who's treating the nation as his own personal Titanic," she proclaimed. Also, when Dion and Layton were taking too much time to reach the stage, she said "Oh, they must be working on a little video back there. I'm sure we'll see it soon." Yay Mary, and all our great Canadian comedians who lighten up these dark times.

Image of Feist--at an awards gala, watch out Harper!--from

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Can't Make South Beach? Try South of Queen

Unlike many in the art world, I'm not in Miami this week. I'm in minus-zero environs instead: good old Toronto. Still, even if I can't hit South Beach, there's plenty of good art to see south of Queen Street--namely, on Tecumseth Ave. Today the National Post published my picks for the art stroll there. Click here for the condensed version or read on after the jump for the full take on my beachless beauties.

This weekend, what’s left of the art market converges in Florida for one of the world’s largest art fairs--Art Basel Miami. If your own Coconut Grove cravings are stymied by a beer budget, take heart. South of Queen may be far from South Beach, but there’s still plenty of fair-worthy works on view. Wrap your trip with a Red Stripe and peppered shrimp at Irie Food Joint for an extra Hogtown hit of tropical flavour.

By Leah Sandals

1. Diaz Contemporary, 100 Niagara
You think the city’s keeping a close eye on your garbage and recycling these days? Beijing-trained, Toronto-based artist James Carl takes the phenomenon of waste transformation to a whole new level. It all started in the early 90s, when Carl made precise replicas of TVs and stereo speakers out of cardboard, then placed them carefully in piles of streetside trash. Then he started carving Styrofoam takeout containers out of white marble. And for the last year or two he’s been creating some absolutely remarkable sculptures out of old venetian blinds. The latter are currently on view at Diaz Contemporary, and they are an absolute must-see. Carl weaves the blinds’ metal strips together to encase space in ways that are both repetitively rhythmic and magically morphing. Some of these sculptures are pure silver in colour; others are a riot of orange, red, blue, green and yellow. All work very well. If you find yourself taken with Carl’s skill, be sure to check out an associated survey of older work running at the U of T’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery to January 25.

2. Birch Libralato Gallery, 129 Tecumseth St
Critic John Berger once observed that in pop culture, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” Montreal artist Janet Werner is a master at capturing this delicate gender-dependent balancing act, painting portraits of women that simultaneously exude seduction and self-consciousness. Sometimes these women are based on prime eyelash-fluttering, Hollywood-trapped examples: both Christina Ricci and Keira Knightley make an appearance in Werner’s show at Birch Libralato. At other times, Werner’s women recall nameless fashion models, or even idealized snapshots. But in all cases Werner hints at how “cute” can be cutting, something quite painfully and pointedly constructed. Toronto artist Ed Pien, who has a concurrent show at the gallery, offers a different but equally effective take on the dark side of beauty. His cut-paper silhouettes trap fragments of bodies and clothing in dense networks of electrical lines and tree branches. Are those trees and towers safe cover or snaring cages? It’s hard to tell. But it’s lovely to visually investigate, and attempt figuring out.

3. Georgia Scherman Projects, 133 Tecumseth St
The month of October—with Nuit Blanche, the Toronto International Art Fair, and multiple exhibition openings—is a busy time in our corner of the art world. Gallerist Georgia Scherman upped the ante considerably this year, however, when she decided to move her business from a warehouse near Lansdowne and Dupont to a smaller, easier-to-access venue on Tecumseth during that same month. Interestingly, for her reopening Scherman is showing Spring Hurlbut, an artist who has often meditated on architectural change. In the 1980s, Hurlbut was known for her attentive modifications to the architecture of buildings, adding a column here or replastering a wall there to alter a space. In more recent years, Hurlbut has investigated a different type of architecture—that of the body. Photographing the cremated remains of pets and other loved ones, Hurlbut explores the inequity between spirit and matter, suggesting the galaxies of meaning that persist after a body’s dead and gone. Best: A film that shows the minutest fragments of remains wafting into dusty air. Were it bigger, it could easily compete with MoMA video fave Bill Viola.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Marclay on Musics - Q&A @ National Post

New York and London based artist Christian Marclay is well known for his works about music. Last week as a touring exhibition of his works opened at the DHC/ART in Montreal, I got him on the phone to chat. The condensed interview was published in today's National Post. Read on after the jump or click here to partake.

The Sight of Music
National Post, Dec 5 2008

With Britney Spears' second comeback album in as many years being released this week, many are musing on the hoped-for connection between brilliance and breakdown. Interestingly, international artist Christian Marclay - more enduring art star than struggling pop tart - has mined similar musical tensions between destructive and dazzling for decades. Now, as he brings a touring exhibition to Montreal's DHC-ART Foundation, Marclay tells Leah Sandals about his own creative circus.

Q Since we're chatting on the phone, I must ask: What did you think of Apple redoing your Telephones video as an iPhone commercial last year?

A I wasn't involved in it at all. They wanted to use my video, but I wasn't interested in that, so eventually they just remade it without my knowledge. All I know is I didn't want my video to be reduced to a commercial.

Q You've said in past interviews that you're "interested in the sounds that people don't want." What do you mean by that?

A Well, a lot of the records that I used in my early DJ performances were any kind of music; it wasn't fashionable music that I was mixing. Often people would give me records they didn't want anymore, so this rejected material became mine to create my own composition. Any record, no matter how bad or how good, can be potentially used in this way.

Q If music means so much to you, why are you a visual artist?

A I was first a visual artist, and I got interested in music through performance art in the late '70s. The punk movement also was interesting to me, this DIY aesthetic where you didn't have to study music to get involved. That kind of liberated me. Now that records are less common, and I perform less with them, the newest way of creating music, for me, is through found imagery and found sound.

Q Some of your videos combine image and sound in unexpected ways, such as destroying records and a guitar on film to see what kind of sound that makes. What do you say to those viewers who find this approach disrespectful?

A People have that dismayed reaction less and less now, at least with records. Now people know music through DVDs, CDs, MP3s. In the '80s, everyone listened to records and knew records were fragile, so people were much more shocked to see them scratched. Now there's also been a whole generation of exposure to DJs who make music from records by scratching them in different ways.

Q Speaking of different ways to experience music, have you ever played Guitar Hero?

A I haven't experienced that, but I don't hang out with teenage kids anymore. Still, music, especially for teenagers, has a huge power. You know that you belong to a certain group depending on the music that you listen to, so it kind of defines you socially. Maybe that's what I'm trying to challenge with my Sounds of Christmas project.

Q That project opens later this month in Montreal. How does it work?

A I'm asking DJs to come and remix music that is not hip - rather, that is old-fashioned Christmas music. There's a performance schedule. Martin Tetrault, a local DJ I've worked with, will do one, as well as conceptual artist Christof Migone, and other pop DJs.

Basically, I provide the music DJs can sample and mix: about 1,200 LPs of holiday music I've collected over the years. The collection includes Bing Crosby, of course, and grows every year. Last time I was in Quebec, I bought a few French records, too. The audience can go through the bins to see what's there. The event started in 1999 and it's always two weeks before Christmas in a different city every year. Often the result sounds nothing like Christmas music.

Q So you started with punk and ended up with poinsettias?

A Well, to me this is a seasonal piece. December is when that sound exists around us; wherever we go, in the car, shopping, holiday music is the soundtrack. It's to the extent that you're happy when Christmas is over and you don't have to listen to that stuff anymore. So the Sounds of Christmas project is one of those events that doesn't end when you leave the venue; when you're out, the piece kind of continues, this soundscape. I think of it as a sort of open-ended composition.

- Christian Marclay: Replay continues at the DHC-ART Foundation until March 29. For more information on this show, Marclay's Sounds of Christmas project runs Dec. 14 to 20 at the Darling Foundry in Montreal. Visit for details.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Canada Insanada

While the rest of the art world seemingly convenes in Miami, even if deflatedly, Canada goes insane! Coalition governments! Prorogation of parliament! Maybe if it was all just performance art I wouldn't feel so disappointed with the Governor General's decision to let the prime minister go on vacation for 8 weeks so he doesn't get voted out of parliament. Ree-effing-diculous.

On a more positive note... last night I went on a tour of the Grange, a historic buildings from which the AGO sprang. There is an anthropological team there right now investigating what could be a Da Vinci Code of Toronto of sorts. It seems the team found a map in a stack of old butler's letters, and dug up places marked with an x--lo and behold, in those locations, there were little stashes of beeswax vessels filled with things like spices, or bones and plaited hair. They have a hunch that a former maid there installed all these secret treasures. What's more, they discovered a hidden workbench/studio where she used to craft these things. Absolutely out of this world.

Why did she do it? Some say witchcraft. Some say obsessive compulsion. Some say love affair.

Whatever it is -- especially if it managed to keep her sane in trying times -- I'm mightily tempted to engage in it myself at this insane political juncture.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

School'ssssss.... out... for... Winter!

Like most art writers, I wear several hats--some stylin, and some not so stylin. One of those hats is a part-time gig as associate editor at the online arm of Canadian Art. Next week, the magazine arm of the organization is releasing its first-ever schools issue--and all students, former and current, delinquent and otherwise, are invited to the launch. Here's the details:

Canadian Art Winter Issue Launch
Featuring free admission, free magazines, free food and free chatter
Tuesday December 9, 6-8pm
Ontario College of Art & Design, 100 McCaul St, Toronto
Room 187 - Lambert Lounge

For this issue, I wrote a piece called "Class of 2008" that profiles ten top MFA/MAA grads from across the country. The mag also has reports about Emily Carr University, Concordia, UQAM, NSCAD, and OCAD, and think pieces from John Kissick and Eldon Garnet on the state of art ed and its discontents.

So skip class and come on out to the launch. If none of the above sounds interesting, maybe you'll catch one of your teachers doing something ridonk! (That's always the main attraction of school events, ain't it?)

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Monday, December 1, 2008

A New Coalition Government: What would it mean for Canada's arts sector?

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper made many enemies (or sharpened same) in the national arts community when cut funding this summer and insinuated all arts as equivalent to elitist galas in the fall.

So there's more than a few artists, curators, actors, filmmakers and writers out there smiling with the news that the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois parties are binding together to form a coalition that could defeat Harper's government as early as next Monday.

What might a coalition mean for Canada's arts community? It's hard to tell, especially with the economic downturn placing the focus squarely on job creation and market stimulation. Still, it might be helpful to review some of the promises the Liberals, NDP and Bloc made on the arts during the election campaign earlier this fall.

  • Increasing the film or video production tax credit to 30%
  • Doubling the budget for the Canada Council for the arts to $360 million annually
  • $25 million to create new jobs in digital media
  • Adding $26 million in international arts promotion 
  • Adding $16 to the Museums Assistance Program
  • Reversing Conservative government cuts totalling $44 million
  • Instituting income averaging for artists' tax returns
  • Providing long-term funding to the Canadian Television Fund
  • Introduce income-averaging for artists, modeled directly on long-standing practice in the province of Quebec
  • Provide an annual federal tax exemption of $20,000 for income earned from copyright and residuals income.
  • Reform the CRTC to ensure that prime time television in French and in English is written, directed, stars, and is about Canada and Canadians
  • Provide Radio-Canada and CBC with stable, secure and adequate funding.
  • Protect and properly fund Telefilm and the Canadian Television Fund.
  • Protect and properly fund the Canada Council.
  • Reverse Mr. Harper’s $45 million cutback to culture.
Though I couldn't find any bullet-point promises on the Bloc site, there were some great quotes from leader Gilles Duceppe that follow the tradition of cultural support for which Quebec governments are known:

« Stephen Harper understands nothing of the Quebecois reality. Culture in Quebec is 314 000 jobs... There are tens of thousands of middle class Quebec families who live from culture, with the average revenue of culture jobs in Quebec at $32 125."

« In Montreal, just in 2005, culture generated 1.4 million dollars and grew at 4.7% per year. The Conservative cuts hurt the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, which must find other sources of funding for its international tours. Yet those tours are worth millions of dollars of publicity for Montreal Quebec, and Canada. And the government decides to cut it?"

" Stephen Harper repeats above all that the culture budget has increased. That's false, because the budget of Heritage Canada increasing does not mean culture funding is increasing. The reality is that the conservatives act populism poorly when they attack artists, art, and culture. Stephen Harper will burn his fingers, because culture, in addition to being the soul of the Quebec nation, is also the economy and in that, all of Quebec profits." [All translations my own.]

Of course, as mentioned previously, all this is up in the air given the economic crisis. Still, should the coalition pass, it would likely generate a government that is more sensitive to the needs of the arts community than Harper's... even if they don't always bring the cash to follow through.

Image of NDP leader Jack Layton, Liberal leader Stephane Dion, and Gilles Duceppe from

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Mark Lombardi after Mumbai

Seeing coverage of the Mumbai attacks was heartrending. Though late artist Mark Lombardi's detached, academic-feeling flowcharts are anything but, they definitely came to mind when considering the political webs of cause and effect that must lie beyond those bloody events.

Image of Mark Lombardi's work from the University Art Museum at the University of Albany

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Museums: Not Just for Tourist-Attracting Anymore

A lovely thought on museums and museum work from Museum 2.0:

Why do you care about and or work in museums? ...

My story is about radical educational philosophy. I don't work in museums because I love them. I didn't grow up staring open-mouthed at natural history dioramas or wandering through art galleries. When I visit a new city, I don't clamor to visit museums. I go on hikes. I go to farmer's markets. I walk around and get a sense for people and place. And while I'll visit museums out of professional (and occasionally personal) interest, I don't do it because of a deep emotional connection. Yes, there are some extraordinary museum experiences that have changed my life, but they are the exception, not the norm.

I don't work in museums because I love them. I love the promise of what they can be. I work in museums because I hate schools and see museums as a viable alternative. I'm a strong believer in free-choice learning, and I see museums as places to circumvent the hazards of compulsory education and support a democratic, engaged society of learners.

Read the full post here. And thanks to Jacob Zimmer for the link.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Recommended: James Carl, Janet Werner, Ed Pien, Iain Baxter, John Marriott

Recommended Toronto shows based on my recent flitting and flotting about town:

  • James Carl at Diaz Contemporary - Incredible digitalesque sculptures made out of venetian blinds, of all things. Wow.
  • Janet Werner at Birch Libralato - This Montreal painter really won me over when I got to see her solo show at her hometown's Parisian Laundry in the spring. Though Birch Libralato's space is a little more humble (as are most TO galleries, bound to storefronts as they be) Werner's talent for depicting the constricted-yet-compelling cuteness of media females is still very visible.
  • Ed Pien at Birch Libralato - I've discovered of late that I have an affection for installation. One by Ed Pien that I saw at the SMU Art Gallery some time ago is at the apex of this affection. It was incredible. Pien's flat, framed works in cut paper are still pretty amazing, though nowhere near as immersive. Still, if you like these, don't miss a similar, bigger piece by Pien at the new AGO, where it is strongly juxtaposed with a Jonathan Meese, a Kori Newkirk and a Rachel Harrison. Fab.
  • Iain Baxter at Corkin Gallery - Iain Baxter... I can never figure out if his name legally is Iain Baxter&, as printed on his exhibition invites, or Iain Baxter, as printed in the society pages for the AGO reeopening. In any case, I appreciate Baxter being willing, over the decades, to stick his neck out. There were a few non-publicized works in this show that were just great, like the large sign spelling "GR$$D" and the stuffed animal tower, with toys skewered on a massive spindle. It's garish and unsightly and environmentally concerned and cheap, like Mike Kelley meets the World Wildlife Fund. Bring it, Baxter!
  • John Marriott at YYZ Artists Outlet - I actually went to YYZ to see emerging artist Atom Deguire's show, which was less than impressive here. Intentionally so, perhaps, but less than impressive nonetheless. Deguire could learn a thing or two at this juncture from John Marriott, a mid-career TO artist who shamelessly takes this exhibition op to plow a sword through a urinal, line the walls with crumpled paper, add a food bank donation box to the space, and install a desk with a completely blank calendar, as if to say, "what next for art? for me? for me and art?" Really great and funny in the best way.

Image of James Carl's Jalousie (baluster) from Diaz Contemporary

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Curating e-Class: A New Web Resource

In my ever expanding quest to understand just what it is curators do, or how they think they do it, I'm happy to have stumbled upon Curators in Context, a new site that archives video talks from 31 curators on their practice. Though the talks seem to be from '05, there's likely many recurring issues here to be addressed. I haven't dug into it yet, but I will be.

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The National Gallery: If it ain't Baroque... oh, never mind

Okay, second full disclosure of the week--I've never really liked the Baroque period all that much. However, I'm feeling swayed by the rave NYT and LAT reviews that "Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture" has had during its run at the Getty. With that show hitting its sole Canuck stop, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, this week, I took the chance to ring up curator David Franklin and ask him how exciting this stuff can actually be to a new millennium. The results are in today's National Post. To read that (including Franklin's comment on his current status at the Gallery) click here and go to page L4 of the digital edition, or read on after the jump.

Lights! Plaster! Action!
A new exhibition on sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini tries to imbue the Baroque artist with a little Hollywood razzle-dazzle
National Post, Nov 27 2008, pg L4

There’s a new must-see that’s gotten rave reviews in the New York Times—but you won’t be seeing it at your local multiplex. Why? Because “Bernini,” rather than being a film offering killer chase scenes, is an exhibition offering incredible (if wrapped in stone) characters. This week, the show opens at the National Gallery of Canada, its sole Canadian stop following a successful run at Los Angeles’s Getty Museum. Still, as exhibition co-curator David Franklin explains, there is something strangely cinematic about these centuries-old works. Here, Franklin tells Leah Sandals what turns Baroque into blockbuster.

Q The portrait bust can be a pretty dull, dusty art form—particularly in a digital effects era. What makes Bernini’s exciting?

A There’s many aspects. I think the human face is perennially of interest. There’s also, for me, the virtuosity of these works, which make its subjects come to life in stone. And I think ironically, in the digital age, the authenticity of these objects when seen in person generates a kind of wonder; we’re so little used to anything authentic anymore.

Q There’s something almost snapshot-like about these sculptures, with Bernini capturing split-second moments of his disarmed lover Costanza Bonarelli, or of a cerebral cardinal or powerful pope. Do you think Bernini foresaw the need for more immediate art forms like photography?

A He definitely revolutionized a previously dusty art form. Before, these sculptures had to do with permanence and stasis. But he pushed this public art form into the private realm.

And the real revolution Bernini pushed was treating each work almost like a cinematographer. Each bust becomes like a story. There’s a sense of each being different and alive that’s very new. To me, it’s almost like there’s a novel behind each sculpture. That’s what’s so original about him.

Q Bernini was also a painter and an architect, creating famous Rome sights like Fontana Trevi and St Peters Square. Were he alive today, what do you think he’d be working on?

A Oh, I think he would definitely be a filmmaker. In his own time he also designed stage sets. So I think he would be designing operas and theatre sets too. But overall working in theatre and film, no question.

Q Some of Bernini’s artworks figure heavily in Dan Brown’s bestselling book Angels and Demons. What do you think of Brown’s use of these artworks?

A I’m very relaxed about it. Some academic types get very agitated. But you just have to realize it’s entertainment and it’s to be enjoyed on that level. And frankly, in our business with all its budget cuts, anything that brings attention to Bernini or Caravaggio or Leonardo da Vinci is wonderful—especially if it inspires people to learn the truth and see the originals.

Q Earlier this year, the Ottawa Citizen reported that this Bernini show almost didn’t happen at the Getty Museum, your key partner on the project. What was the problem?

A There were disputes between the Getty and the Italian government for several years over works that were allegedly illegally excavated from Italy and smuggled out of the country. In May 2007 about 40 artworks were returned to Italy from the Getty’s collection, which resolved the dispute and made Italy open to lending artworks like Bernini’s to them again. So this exhibition is really the first major collaboration between Italy and the Getty, and we’re the happy benefactors.

Q On another political front, there’s been a lot of drama at the National Gallery this year, with rumors that you might leave. What’s your status there now?

A I don’t know how much I can say, but I’m back at the gallery and everything is fine. The way I put it is that families fight but it’s doesn’t mean they don’t love each other. I’m back and we’re moving forward—and we always just want to focus on the art.

Q Getting back to art, Bernini’s son Domenico said that his father saw all the arts as equal. Do you agree?

A That’s a difficult question. What’s exciting about an artist like Bernini is that he was very eclectic, like Leonardo. Artists today tend to make their work for themselves and sell afterwards. But artists of the Baroque thought of themselves as designers and worked on anything that came their way. They had to be really good at multitasking and being open-minded.

“Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture” opens Friday (November 28) and runs to March 8 at Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada (

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

VanCity: Keeping the "Is" in Feminism

How great IS this? It's part of a new vitrine project at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver. The project, coordinated by CAG curator Jenifer Papararo, will feature feminism-inspired slogans from various artists including curator/psychoanalyst/critic Jeanne Randolph, Kate Davis, FASTWURMS, Martha Wilson, Myfanwy Macleod, Dave Dyment, Kelly Mark, Kristina Podesva and others.

There's also a comments function on the gallery's site to invite feedback. No one has written in it yet... so everyone must agree. Or web commenting's not the best way to solicit reaction for a public art piece, mebbe. Or it's only been a few days since the vitrine was installed (Nov 21). In any case, the sign makes me smile.

Now if we could only figure out how to keep the "Emin" in feminism. That might be harder. Depending on who you ask, of course.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Canadian Pop Music: It does really matter, actually

Today it hit the news that the Kenny MacLean, bassist for Platinum Blonde--or as some call them "Canada's Duran Duran"--passed away suddenly this weekend.

I was 8 years old when Platinum Blonde's "It Doesn't Really Matter" hit the airwaves, and I heard it many times, particularly being an avid listener to Winnipeg station CFRW's Top 6 at 6 and Top 10 at 10. That was even before Canada's first music video program Video Hits hit the publicly sponsored TV in 1984. I also heard it repeatedly at the roller rink, where it animated many a careening crash.

I'd like to say that it changed my life, because that would make the loss of a creative person more meaningful, and give me a really very good reason for posting it on my art blog. Or even, perhaps, that it learned me some nihilism, and that I started reading Sartre in grade 3 as a result. That would be good too.

I don't think it did have such a dramatic effect, really. However, I do think that this song is still really great, as are other Platinum Blonde hits like Cryin and (to a lesser extent) Situation Critical. Of course, I'm biased as is anyone when it comes to the songs of their youth. But at moments like this it becomes every more clear how pop music lyrics and styles can be ingrained deeply in one's brain. Now that I have many more "brain is full" moments and the old neurons are on the decline, songs just don't get remembered the same way.

Reviewing the video today, I grin at the hairstyles, wince at the misogyny (my, how times have changed... not) and wonder how much current teens and preteens would pay to get their hands on these now-retro clothes and shoes.

I won't be "Cryin" over MacLean; but I am grateful for what he produced. A chance to dance, which, as I indicated on Monday, also makes for some great art sometimes.

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